I am a first year small group leader for high school students at LCBC Church in Manheim, PA. This past weekend was the Circl3 Fall Retreat in Lake Champion, NY. It's a beautiful Young Life camp located in the middle of nowhere and all the high schools had to suffer through a weekend with spotty cell phone reception. It was basically torture for them, because they had to actually use their mouths to talk to other humans.
This was not, however, the first time I had been to this camp at Lake Champion. I was on a similar retreat 12 years ago as a junior in high school. I spent most of that weekend sneaking off into the woods to smoke pot. I was uninterested in any lesson, group activity or worship song. I believed that God wasn't really that interested in my life and Christians were dorky and weird. I wanted nothing to do with them and felt like if they were really honest, they wanted nothing to do with me. I was confused about everything and didn't care to find the answers.
Fast forward 12 years, and there I was, arriving at Lake Champion with 400+ high schoolers this past Friday night. At our first gathering I stood in the back of the auditorium with arms up and tears streaming down my face as the worship team sang these lyrics from the song "Alive" by Hillsong Young and Free.
"I was lost with a broken heart
You picked me up, now I'm set apart
From the ash I am born again
Forever safe in the Saviour's hands
You are more than my words could say
I'll follow You Lord for all my days
I'll fix my eyes, follow in Your ways
Forever free in unending grace because of the faithfulness and grace of God."
God was able to take an angry, bitter, apathetic heart and inject it with a love so real that my eyes tear up every time I think about it. As a high school student I would have never thought that 12 years later I would be where I am today. I never thought that my life would be so amazing and that is all thanks to the almighty, amazing, over-the-top love of God. Throughout the weekend I kept looking out into the woods to the places that I spent time sneaking off to and realized that I am no longer trapped in those woods, wandering and lost. God has showed me the path out of the woods that are filled apathy, bitterness, hatred, jealously, self-centeredness and emptiness. He has given me a hope and a future. He has told me that my story matters more with Him co-writing it then it ever did when I was trying to write it on my own.
When I got home last night I realized three things. The first is that there are so many great kids out there that are miles ahead of where I was in high school. That have already put their trust in Jesus and are following him with arms up and hearts abandoned! If you are one of those students - WAY TO GO! That is so amazing and keep it up! Your life will be so full of joy and peace and you will avoid so many scars and so much pain by following God now, instead of later. Don't ever let anyone make you feel like that is a bad choice. Be strong in your faith and keep diving deeper into God's word and change the world for His glory!
The second realization was that if you were like "high school me" this weekend and couldn't care less about anything happening, look out because God is never going to stop coming after you with love and grace! He will keep knocking down those walls you put up until you surrender your heart to Him. And when you finally do you will wish that you had done it so much sooner!
The third realization is for leaders. If you spent all weekend with a bunch of punk kids (like I once was!) and felt like you wasted your time -- you didn't. You have no idea what God will do with some of these students. Be faithful and keep praying for them. Who knows, in 12 years they could be standing in the back of the auditorium with arms up and heart abandoned, tearfully thanking a God who never gave up on them!